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Exploring Alaska’s enchanting and iconic railways

Steeped in history, surrounded by breathtaking landscapes, and offering a unique way to experience the untamed wilderness, Alaska's railways hold an allure that is hard to resist. Join us as we delve into the cultural and historical significance of Alaska’s breathtaking railroad system. 

A glimpse into history 

Alaska's railway heritage is intertwined with its pioneering spirit and gold rush era. The construction of the Alaska Railroad, completed in 1923, played a vital role in the development of the region, opening up remote areas and facilitating transportation and commerce. The vision of President Warren G. Harding, the railroad was initially built to connect the port of Seward to Fairbanks, covering a distance of 470 miles. The endeavor required the labor of thousands of workers who toiled under challenging conditions, overcoming rugged terrain and harsh weather. 

Locomotive pulling flatcars, Alaska Central Railroad, Alaska, 1904
One of Alaska’s first trains built on the Alaska Central Railroad in 1904.

The Alaska Railroad played a crucial role during World War II, transporting troops, equipment, and supplies to strategic locations. After the war, the railroad continued to serve as a vital lifeline for Alaskan communities, providing essential goods and services. Over the years, it has undergone frequent modernization efforts to ensure its efficiency and reliability. 

As important as ever 

Today, the Alaska Railroad serves as both a lifeline for local communities and a remarkable attraction for tourists seeking an authentic Alaskan experience. The railway system transports goods, connects remote areas, and offers unforgettable journeys for passengers from around the world. Riding the rails allows visitors to witness the untouched beauty of Alaska's wilderness, providing access to areas inaccessible by road and offering a unique perspective on the state's natural wonders. 

The Alaska Railroad has also become a symbol of Alaska's commitment to sustainability and responsible tourism. Efforts have been made to minimize environmental impact, including the use of clean-burning fuel, waste management initiatives, and wildlife protection programs. The railway serves as a model for balancing economic development with environmental conservation. 

The majestic Denali Star 

Denali Mountain peak in Alaska on a sunny day
At 20,310 feet, Denali is the tallest mountain in North America. With such high altitude, only ~30% of visitors are lucky enough to see the entire mountain.

Embark on the Denali Star and prepare for a captivating expedition through Alaska's untouched wilderness. The journey begins in Anchorage, Alaska's largest city, where you'll board the train and venture north towards the heart of the state. As the train leaves Anchorage, you'll soon be greeted by breathtaking views of the Chugach Mountains. The rugged peaks provide a dramatic backdrop as you traverse the picturesque Matanuska Valley, known for its fertile farmlands and stunning river vistas. 

Continuing on, the train winds its way through dense forests and along the crystal-clear waters of the Susitna River. Keep your eyes peeled for wildlife sightings, as moose, black bears, and eagles are known to frequent the area. One of the highlights of the Denali Star journey is the opportunity to catch a glimpse of Denali, North America's tallest peak. The train offers ample opportunities to admire this majestic mountain as it towers over the surrounding landscape. On clear days, the sight of Denali's snow-capped summit is simply awe-inspiring. 

As the Denali Star approaches its destination, you'll have the chance to explore the crown jewel of Alaska's national parks—Denali National Park. Home to abundant wildlife, stunning vistas, and six million acres of untouched wilderness, the park offers a multitude of activities for outdoor enthusiasts and is a shoe-in on all of our most popular Alaska itineraries. 

Other iconic train journeys 

River forest and mountain view in Girdwood, Alyeska, Alaska
Girdwood is a wilderness-lover’s paradise!

Coastal Classic: This scenic odyssey takes you from Anchorage to Seward or vice versa. The 114-mile route traverses awe-inspiring coastal landscapes, passing through the Chugach Mountains, charming seaside towns like Girdwood (another SA Expeditions favorite), and the stunning Kenai Peninsula. Keep your eyes peeled for wildlife sightings, including bald eagles, beluga whales, and Dall sheep. The journey also presents opportunities for outdoor activities such as hiking, fishing, and wildlife spotting. 

Glacier Discovery: Experience the magic of Alaska's glaciers aboard the Glacier Discovery route, linking Anchorage with the coastal town of Whittier. Traverse rugged mountains, lush forests, and sparkling rivers before reaching the breathtaking Portage Glacier. Along the way, witness the stunning sights of Spencer Glacier and the eerie beauty of the Anton Anderson Memorial Tunnel, the longest combined rail and highway tunnel in North America. Whittier itself is a gateway to the stunning Prince William Sound, offering opportunities for glacier cruises, kayaking, and wildlife encounters. 

Aurora Winter Train: This themed ride showcases the beauty of Alaska's winter landscape, with the possibility of witnessing the mesmerizing Northern Lights dancing across the sky. The train's large viewing windows provide an ideal vantage point for taking in the awe-inspiring celestial display. 

Great Alaska Beer Train: This special event train combines the joy of train travel with the opportunity to sample local brews. As you savor craft beers from Alaskan breweries, the train glides through scenic landscapes, offering a delightful blend of flavors and views. 

Glacier at Prince William Sound in coastal Alaska
Prince William Sound boasts dozens of glaciers flowing down to the waters.

Spoilt for choice 

Throughout the year, the Alaska Railroad also hosts special events and themed rides, such as the Easter Train, Halloween Train, and the ever-popular Santa Train during the holiday season. These family-friendly experiences can add an extra layer of magic to your Alaskan journey. 

Alaska's railroads offer an immersive and captivating way to explore the state's vast and awe-inspiring landscapes. Check out our most popular Alaska itineraries (many of which include a trip aboard the Denali Star) or speak to a Destination Expert about crafting a bespoke rail-themed tour. 

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